MEPs call on Denmark to rethink Syrian refugee return policy

Letter follows protests outside Denmark’s parliament against the controversial plans

People attend a demonstration against the tightening of Denmark’s migration policy and the deportation orders in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Ten years after the start of the Syrian civil war, Denmark has become the first European country to start revoking the residency permits of some refugees from the Damascus area. (AP Photo/David Keyton)
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A group of 33 European parliamentarians have written to Denmark's leader denouncing a plan to return Syrian refugees to Damascus.

The group of MEPs from 12 countries called on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to reverse her plan, saying Syria was not safe enough to accept returning refugees.

The Danish government claimed that conditions in and around the Syrian capital, which is under the control of Bashar Al Assad's regime, were safe for refugees to return.

At least 189 Syrians in Denmark have had their residency permits revoked since last summer.

“We thus urge you to reconsider the path you are currently taking and to make nothing less than a 180-degree turnaround in your current asylum and migration policy,” said the letter signed by MEPs from Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Italy, Poland and Spain.

“Migration is, in historical terms, a completely normal phenomenon. Deportations to a country at war must never be normal. Denmark should not take a vanguard role here.”

Protesters last week demonstrated outside the Danish parliament in protest at the government’s plan.

Denmark decided last summer to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus and the surrounding area.

It concluded that "the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit".

Those who had only temporary residency were placed in a detention centre pending their deportation.

Under Danish immigration law, temporary residence permits are issued without an end date in cases of a "particularly serious situation in the country of origin characterised by arbitrary violence and attacks against civilians".

But they can be revoked once conditions are deemed to have improved.

About 35,500 Syrians live in Denmark, more than half of whom arrived in 2015, figures from Statistics Denmark show.